In “Mirror Image,” a chilling episode in the first season of “The Twilight Zone,” a woman sees herself sitting on a bench. It’s not a reflection. It’s not a hallucination. It’s just — herself.
She begins to wonder if she’s crazy, but she finally settles on the theory that the doppelganger is a result of the collision of two dimensions. It smiles menacingly at her, and she’s convinced it’s there to take her place.
The 1960s episode was just another medium playing on the literary motif of the doppelganger, an idea that influenced Edgar Allen Poe and horror godfather E.T.A. Hoffmann. Most recently, it inspired Jordan Peele.
The director and screenwriter of the horror flick “Us” told Rolling Stone the episode gave him an idea for his new thriller. In his iteration, however, the doppelgangers don’t come from another dimension. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll say this: The explanation for their existence is less metaphysics and more conspiracy.
Since its release last month, “Us” has generated a lot of buzz. It’s Peele’s sophomore effort, the follow-up to the comedy-horror “Get Out.” It had a great opening weekend, breaking records as a horror flick and as an R-rated film. “Us” also had the highest-grossing domestic opening weekend of a movie led by a black woman.
Is it worth the hype? “Us” has moments of humor (mostly offered in the form of dad jokes from “Black Panther” actor Winston Duke), a cleverly creepy score, and a genuinely terrifying premise: What if you saw yourself, but that self was trying to kill you?
The problem with Peele’s play on the doppelganger motif is that it’s muddied by misguided attempts at socioeconomic and racial commentary.
When matriarch Adelaide (a brilliant Lupita Nyong'o) asks the red-jumpsuit-wearing killers who they are, her counterpart responds, “Americans.” You can interpret the doppelgangers as the lower class staging an uprising, but the characterization misses the point.
When done well, the doppelganger makes us face ourselves, our insecurities, our fears. “Us” makes us face the systemic inequalities in our society, but only if you buy the bungling explanation that arrives as the plot unfolds.
As Peele explained his reverence toward "Mirror Image" to Rolling Stone, he said, “It’s terrifying, beautiful, really elegant storytelling, and it opens up a world. It opens up your imagination.”
If only I could say the same for “Us.” The film opens up your imagination, and then, through clunky exposition and muddled racial and socioeconomic commentary, closes it.